It’s no secret that comics can be daunting to a newcomer to the genre. With hundreds of ongoing series, 100-odd years of back issues, plus plenty of self-contained stories that skip the episodic format altogether and go straight to graphic novel format, you’re more than a little bit spoiled for choice.
So where do you start? The short (and less helpful) answer is… wherever you want. Even with the expansive, interconnected universes like those of DC and Marvel, each series stands on its own. And even though they’re ongoing, these comics are always segmented into finite story arcs, which typically get bundled together in trade paperback format a few months down the line. So the best thing you can do is head to your library or comic store, browse through the graphic novels section, and try anything that catches your attention.
You may not like what you read, but if that happens, try something else. Before long, you’ll find characters, writers, and artists that you’re particularly fond of, which will lead you to new books and new series. Forget the stereotype of a comic book fan with encyclopaedic knowledge – you don’t need to know everything about the Marvel universe to enjoy an Iron Man story.
I understand this may not be immediately helpful – even simply browsing the shelves can be overwhelming. So, here are a few books I’d recommend, that are both riveting and accessible.
Saga (Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples)
I’ve talked plenty of times before about how much I love Saga. If comics were doomed and I could only save a single series, it’d be this.
Saga is an ideal starting point because, as well as being spectacularly written, with riveting plotlines and some of the most sympathetic characters the genre has known, it’s really easy to read. Sure it has its moments of difficult emotionality or slightly complex exposition, but for the most part, it’s a fun, lighthearted adventure with characters who feel like they could be your best friends.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)
Batman is easily one of the most recognisable comic book characters, thanks in no small part to Tim Burton’s and Christopher Nolan’s films, which makes Batman an obvious starting point for new comic fans.
There are a lot of Batman books (this is a character that first appeared in 1939, after all!), but The Dark Knight Returns is a great place to start because it makes no assumptions about the reader’s Batman knowledge; cursory, everyday familiarity with the character is all you need to enjoy the story to its fullest. Also, it’s really good – earning a spot on numerous “best graphic novels of all time” lists.
The New 52
In 2011, DC Comics – realising that their catalogue had become bloated and confusing – cancelled their entire line, and chose 52 to series’ to relaunch under the name, The New 52. The goal here was to make DC Comics more modern and accessible in order to invite new readers. While significant plot points from previous runs remained part of the official canon, each New 52 comic started a new story arc with a new creative team.
This makes them a great place for a new comic reader to start – that was the point of the event, after all. Whatever your taste, be it superheroes, mysteries, fantasy, westerns, or just about anything else, The New 52 has you covered, especially with additional series’ that have launched in the years since it kicked off. I’d personally recommend Batgirl, Aquaman, Secret Six, and Justice League of America, but you really can’t go wrong, whatever you choose.
Marvel Comics undertook something similar to DC’s The New 52 in 2012, with Marvel NOW!, which saw a selection of ongoing Marvel titles relaunched with new creative teams and stories, alongside a handful of new series.
As with The New 52, the fact that these are all fresh starts for characters that have built up a lot of complex backstory over the years makes them a great jumping off point for Marvel’s line. My personal recommendations are Captain Marvel, Ms. Marvel, Thor: God of Thunder, Thor (2014), Ant-Man, and Young Avengers, but again, you can’t really go wrong.
Fables (Bill Willingham)
It can be easy to forget that comic books cover more than just superheroes, since they’re the most talked about and best known. But at their most basic, comics are just a way of telling a story, like prose or film, and certainly aren’t limited to certain genres.
Fables is a great example of this. It follows a community of displaced fairytale and folklore characters living in secret in New York, after being forced from their Homelands by a villain simply known as The Adversary. These Fables (as they’re known) have to stick together, but old conflicts and rivalries don’t just disappear…
It’s a fantasy series at heart, but one that straddles a breadth of other genres, like mystery and romance, in the process. And the fresh, modern take on characters that most of us would have grown up with makes it particularly welcoming and fascinating.
Rat Queens (Kurtis K. Wiebe, Stjepan Sejic)
While DC and Marvel dominate the comic scene with their well-established formula, other publishers like Image are busy bringing new and unusual works to surface with their philosophies of creative freedom.
Rat Queens is one such series. Inspired by Dungeons and Dragons, it’s a comedic fantasy series following a group of foul-mouthed, raucous adventurers called the Rat Queens as they go on all manner of quests. It’s both a love letter to fantasy epics and a parody of them, but it’s the careful balance of over-the-top hilarity and violence with deep characters and emotionally charged sub-plots that really makes it worth your time.
Do you have any other recommendations for people new to comics? Let us know in the comments!